I look at Jackson, who does not look at me. Instead, he studies the screen where an article is now scrolling beneath the headline, complete with hyperlinks to other LA Scandal website articles.

Damien Stark—whose place in the scandal firmament was assured by both his recent murder trial (the charges of which were dismissed—the scandalous Stark was not acquitted!) and the sexilicious deal he made with his now-wife Nikki Fairchild (more here)—just might be at it again!

Has he opened up his problem-plagued, not-yet-operational resort on the recently purchased Santa Cortez island to investors for use as their own private playground? A secret hideaway for illicit affairs? Take a look at this footage of scandal-magnet Dallas Sykes and “friend” Melissa Baronne and draw your own conclusions. We can guess what Ms. Baronne’s husband is thinking!

“Oh my god,” I say, as a looped image of Sykes in a lip-lock with a twenty-something bombshell starts to play. “How—”

“A very good question,” Damien says, his dual-colored eyes reflecting the tight grip he is keeping on control. His attention is laser-locked on Jackson. “We don’t even have plans from you, Mr. Steele, and we already have scandal. Not only does this play against the family resort atmosphere we’re aiming for, but this company now has a part in putting out gossip about one of our key investors. Not to mention a man with whom I’m currently in other negotiations.”

“Is that an accusation, Stark?” Jackson asks.

“There were a limited number of people at my house on Sunday when Nikki mentioned Sykes and his girlfriend.”

“Unless those cameras were designed during the Dark Ages, the images are sent digitally from the source to your security department. Probably also simultaneously copied to your server and backup server.” Jackson’s voice is as sharp and precise as a scalpel. As for me, I’m feeling rather sick.

“You have an oversight division that surely goes over incoming footage,” he continues. “And I’d bet money that reviewing the incoming feed from the island is the responsibility of at least one desk security guard. If you’re not going to monitor activity around all that expensive equipment, then why have the system in place at all?”

He looks around the room as if searching for something. “I wasn’t the only one at your party, Mr. Stark. And there’ve been a lot of eyes on that image,” he says. “And yet I’m the only one in here getting my ass bitten off.”

“And if I learn that any of those folks are displeased about a past business arrangement, I’ll be sure to call them in,” Damien says as he aims the remote and continues to scroll through the article.

I read the words that pop up and feel even more queasy.

Perhaps conflict with starchitect—or should we say “Starkitect”—Jackson Steele is adding some stress to the mix over at Stark International. Our scandal scouts say that Steele is the newest addition to The Resort at Cortez team, but that Steele is no fan of Damien Stark. Just a few months ago, Steele announced that he had no interest in working on a Stark International project. So what could have un-hardened a heart made of Steele? We smell scandal!

“Care to explain?”

“I said that to your wife several months ago,” Jackson says mildly. “And repeated it to you. What someone who overheard us prints or tells a reporter isn’t something I can control.”

“Are you unhappy about what happened in Atlanta, Mr. Steele?”

“What?” Jackson asks, his eyes darting immediately to me.

“With the Brighton Consortium,” Damien continues smoothly. “I’ve come to learn that if the project had gone forward, you would have been awarded the contract to design and build the complex on the full four hundred acres.”

I look between the two men. I hadn’t realized how much Jackson lost when the Brighton deal exploded.

“I wasn’t the only one hurt when you swooped in, Stark. The consortium had investors, and yet you pulled strings and got your hands on enough of the earmarked land that there was no way the complex could be completed. Everyone involved took a loss. Everyone but you.”

“Business is about opportunities, Mr. Steele. Not coddling.”

“I see. I must have been confused by the references to racketeering and fraud being tossed around at the time.”

I have my hand on the edge of Damien’s desk, using that to keep my balance. I may not know the details of what happened in Atlanta, but I do know that the vitriol in this room is beyond toxic.

“So you’ve been holding on to a grudge based on your skewed version of the facts for five years, and when the opportunity arose to shove a few barbs my way you jumped on it—and injured Ms. Brooks and the real estate department in the process.”

Tags: J. Kenner Stark International Trilogy Romance
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